A Love Letter to Mr. Covid-19

A Love Letter to Mr. Covid-19

Despite the terrible losses, the pandemic could change business for the better.

Maybe you’ve heard of the concept: writing a love letter to your enemy or archrival for all they have given you. It isn’t easy to do while looking through the thick fog of fear, loathing, and discontent brought on by Covid-19. But the exercise is noble and revealing.

Let’s start a list of things we can thank the coronavirus for today:

  1. Thank you for revealing our fragile supply system and the downside of “just-in-time” inventory for a wide variety of products important to our national health. Thanks also, 3M, for your fierce and justified response to price gouging on face masks.
  2. Thank you for reminding us how important music is to health and well-being, as we have watched Italians on balconies serenading each other. Note to self: Donate to the Minnesota Orchestra later today.
  3. Thank you for helping us see how important schools and teachers are, and that online learning is not for everyone. Thank you to the teachers that bucked the system to perform above and beyond, rather than just phoning it in.
  4. Thank you for showing us what it looks like when brands take on our best human attributes and treat and protect their employees like the valuable human beings they are. Note to everyone: Continue to thank your cashier long after this is done.
  5. Thank you for revealing that a digital-only world is not how we want to live as a human race and for getting us back to real books, going outside, and sharing stories. The desire to connect in the real world—even if from six feet—will never go away.
  6. Thank you for clarifying the difference between social distancing and physical distancing. We got the phrase wrong coming out of the gate, but we can fix it, right? I feel socially closer to many people around the world, yet physically distant from my next-door neighbors.

That’s the start of my list; make your own. And now let’s get back to business.

This idea of thanking the virus was sparked by a great conversation with Karl Bracken, a former Target leader who is now head of private brands at Guitar Center. He introduced me to another virus that we’ve all had for a while now, and no lab technicians are cooking up an antiviral. The virus is aptly called lastyear-itis and has so many ugly symptoms. You can diagnose it by the words people use: “We’ll get to that next year” or “We’ve already tried that last decade” or my favorite, “I don’t see other competitors doing that.”

If you thank the coronavirus, you’ll notice something as you dig deeper. It is an antidote to lastyear-itis, because everything is upside down and it is so easy to question any “rule” or standard of doing business from previous years. (When was the last time, pre-Covid-19, you had graciously thanked a grocery store cashier?) This new antidote will change the original host (your business) if you allow it to happen. And those brands coming out of this with the most changes made or set in motion will be the winners emerging from the pandemic.

Those brands coming out of this with the most changes made or set in motion will be the winners from this pandemic.

Now that we can see past the first-wave horizon of the virus, we need to start putting plans in place to avoid the economic pandemic. So what does this mean for small and big business? The small-business community was given a shot in the arm to help avoid the economic pandemic. But this isn’t a big versus small-business world anymore. Ecolab marketing vice president Katie Peterson has noted that the business community needs to move from “versus” to “and.” Big business has scale and small business has agility; if they work together, we have a healthier community.

If big business only works with big business, we continue to have a fragile system devoid of fast-moving innovations. Meanwhile small businesses don’t allow for the efficiencies of scale that come from big business. The two need a more symbiotic relationship and to find new ways to work together. We started to see this with the rise of innovation ecosystems including a startup aspect, but the pandemic should create more new collaborative behaviors.

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The pandemic and economic disruption’s costs in loss of human life are incalculable. Yet the virus might well bring about important changes in our business. And perhaps someday, we can write a love letter to Covid-19 and leave it in a time capsule for the next generation to read.

Stay safe out there.

Aaron Keller (aaronkeller@capsule.us) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule (capsule.us), a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.